Public Health

The Shaky Science Underlying New York's Salt Assault

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Participation in New York City's new anti-salt campaign, which aims to reduce the sodium content of restaurant and packaged food by an average of 25 percent in the next five years, is voluntary for now. But that is also how the city's trans fat ban got started; when restaurants declined to cooperate, they were forced. City officials are downplaying the possibility that recalcitrant volunteers will be conscripted. "There's not an easy regulatory fix," Associate Health Commissioner Geoffrey Cowley told The New York Times. "You would have to micromanage so many targets for so many different products." And when have government bureaucrats ever tried to micromanage business practices?

Even if it does not become legally mandatory, the city's salt assault is astonishingly presumptuous. Because it requires the participation of restaurant chains and food manufacturers, it will, if successful, affect the diet of the entire country. Such a nationwide shift is not justified even by the standards of "public health" paternalism, since it could do more harm than good. "We all consume way too much salt," claims New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. But as I noted in my 2003 Reason article about the Center for Science in the Public Interest (which back in the 1970s was calling salt "the deadly white powder you already snort"), that position is more an article of nutritional faith than an established scientific proposition. Reviewing the controversy over salt reduction in a 2008 Esquire article, John Mariani summed up the evidence this way:

Studies show that 30 percent of the Americans who have high blood pressure would greatly benefit from a low-sodium diet. But that's about 10 percent of the overall population—the rest of us are fine with sodium.

Furthermore, skeptics such as Michael Alderman, editor of the American Journal of Hypertension, worry that a substantial nationwide reduction in salt consumption could have unintended negative health consequences. "They want to do an experiment on a whole population without a good control," Alderman told the New York Daily News. "That's not science." In a 2000 review of the evidence, Alderman warned:

The question…is whether the beneficial hypotensive effects of sodium restriction will outweigh its hazards. Unfortunately, few data link sodium intake to health outcomes, and that which is available is inconsistent. Without knowledge of the sum of the multiple effects of a reduced sodium diet, no single universal prescription for sodium intake can be scientifically justified.

Previous Reason coverage of New York's anti-salt crusade here, here, and here.

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  1. skeptics such as Michael Alderman

    Who cares what the deniers think?

  2. The real joke is that it is well known that Bloomberg is a salt lover.

    1. I guess he’ll have to subsist on dried ball sweat from now on.

      1. As douchey as he is, Bloomberg must be immune to the vinegarry, sweaty ball variant.

        1. What about the “chunks of feta dipped in raccoon shit” variant?

          1. Yum – tasty! Where can I get some?

            1. From a sloppy, raccoon anus raping Greek man maybe.

              1. Speaking of, where’s Xeones been lately?

                1. And I here I thought any follow up would be regarding the redundancy of “anus raping” and “Greek.”

      2. I’m thinking that would be pretty salty.

      3. Likely he wouldn’t always wait until it dried.

  3. As always, government knows what is best for you and you aren’t smart enough to decide how much salt you should eat. Control is so much better than suggestion for the statist.

    1. Don’t restaurants/chefs decide whats best for you? They have salt shakers. If they don’t add it for you, you get to decide.

    2. Don’t restaurants/chefs decide whats best for you? They have salt shakers. If they don’t add it for you, you get to decide.

  4. When Bloomberg was young, he saw that salt monster episode of Star Trek. He’s been freaked out about that for the last forty years, and everything he’s done–the money, politics, everything–has been aimed at preventing salt monsters from coming to Earth.

  5. That Esquire piece is amusing.

    Paragraph 5: “Better safe than sorry” is not science, but it may be fear-mongering, the specialty of the Washington, D.C.-based nutritional group called the Center for Science and the Public Interest.

    Paragraph 6: “[…]The bigger issue is what happens if people do restrict salt, which may make them more vulnerable to hemorrhaging, diarrhea, and water loss. There were some tragic results when some mothers restricted their infants’ salt intake, which sent them into shock. Some even died.” (said Dr. David Case)

    Not the children!

    What’s good for the goose…

  6. Maybe in Manhattan it’s considered far worse to be fat than a junkie.

    In New York, people who abuse heroin get pamphlets on how to use it correctly, and people who abuse salt get threatened with regulation.

  7. Bloomberg was a low level douchebag before his ascent into politics, but becoming mayor turned him into a full-blown grade A nimrod. His nanny crap is turning NYC into Douchebag Central, and the residents seem to have no problem with that. Christ, he makes the Giuliani years look positively free (if you are white, of course). You could still smoke in bars, eat what you wanted, etc.

  8. There were some tragic results when some mothers restricted their infants’ salt intake, which sent them into shock.

    A main source of iodine for many people is salt. I am sure Bloomberg will be full of apologies once the people of Manhattan are walking around with goiters. Mental retardation is another result of iodine deficiency. Does anybody know if Bloomberg’s mom looked like Boss Nass?

  9. In a certain sense, it is a medical experiment. Wasn’t there a case where even some simple hospital checklist had to go through a complete testing process because it was a “medical procedure”?

    Can’t someone sue and complain that mandated salt restrictions are a medical procedure and must be tested, vetted, and regulated by the FDA, per the “F” part?

    Maybe it would end up worse than before, but let the technocracy devour its own before it gets around to us.

  10. To set a healthy example, I think that Bloomberg should train to run a marathon. Of course, he should only drink salt-free tap water while doing so. I’m sure the effect will be beneficial to New York, and the country as a whole.

  11. Oh, but they think it’s science if enough Chads scream: ‘SCIENCE! SCIENCE! SCIENCE!!1!’

  12. Did you know (and I learned this on the National Geographic channel) that the way to keep a person Zombified is to completely deprive them of salt. It fucks up brain function. In fact, the missionaries who rescue Zombies start feeding them salt ASAP.

    Makes you wonder why Bloomberg wants to turn the five buroughs into a multi-million army of Zombies nightmare.

  13. Let’s face it, folks. Salt intake cannot be restricted as long as those salt shakers are sitting on the table. After we impose crypto-national standards on restaurant menus and recipes, the inevitable next step is outlawing salt shakers in restaurants.

    And a fat lot of good that will do if you can just bring your own from home. Salt as a controlled substance is next on the list.

    Its the only way to be sure.

    1. But first, they will have to be kept behind the counter, so the customer will have to ask for the salt.

      Later on, they will be completely banned.

    2. Soon it will be like getting weed. Everyone will have a favorite weed supplier, kids will ask parents, “did you ever shake” Clinton will say that he shook but did not eat (yeah, thats believable), etc.

      The only problem will be combining slacker and salter into a new slang word:
      slackter
      salker
      salsla
      think up some yourself. Bonus points for anything that sounds obscene.

  14. I might be stepping out of my experience as a neuro-biologist, but isn’t sodium an essential element for all animal life? Sodium ions allow the organism to build up an electrostatic charge on cell membranes, transmitting nerve impulses when the charge is allowed to dissipate by a moving wave of voltage change.

  15. That picture needs alt text.

    “Is that…yeah, that’s blood. I think I just ate part of my finger.”

  16. “Step 1: eat some popcorn. Step 2: cut hole in the bottom of popcorn bucket.”

    1. That’s what rather crazy that Libertarian said before she devoured my member.

  17. How come no one is commenting on the economic affect this will have? Why the sentence “Because it requires the participation of restaurant chains and food manufacturers, it will, if successful, affect the diet of the entire country” – does Reason really think that manufacturers will keep their facilities in New York if salt regulations go into affect? They could easily just relocate right across the river in New Jersey and keep puting as much salt into food as they want to – and all those factory workers in New York would be out of jobs. New York restaurants that are part of a franchise or chain could close down temporarily or permanently because of an inability to adjust to the new rules; a lot of their ingredients come pre-packaged, or the chefs would have to re-learn the entire menu of changed recipes (it won’t necessarily be as simple as taking out salt – they’ll have to compensate in other ways to make the food taste good).

    restrictions on salt for food manufacturers based in NYC and restaurants in NYC could have some devastating economic affects

  18. If you want to see wildlife in your backyard, put out a salt lick. Animals will come from miles around to use it. Animals know what’s good for them.

    1. No effin’ way!

  19. Salt intake level is highly dependent on biology, too:

    http://www.news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=9265

  20. Guess the TSA will be guarding winter snow plows ($$$$) with their salt cargo 4 defense against “home grown salt terrorist! (sorry, just putting in my ‘salts’worth.-Damn I when I do that@#$!

  21. Thank goodness I don’t live anywhere near NYC. A few years ago I was actually prescribed salt tablets due to low blood pressure. Thankfully I was able to moderate the problem with diet. I don’t need a nanny-statist trying to over ride my Dr’s directions. The angle that this is a medical experiment is a valid one!

    1. Does that work? I have found that increasing my salt intake doesn’t help. What diet is helping you out? I am genuinly curious, I am tired of being tired and dizzy for no reason.

    2. Joette, I completely agree with you! I need extra sodium, too. One size does not fit all!

  22. The science is settled! The data conclusively shows that these assclowns will not be happy until they control absolutely every part of every person’s life.

  23. As someone else mentioned above, iodized salt intake had great health consequences for our country. Iodine deficiency and its attendant problems — most of which are extremely serious — was virtually eliminated by good old table salt.

  24. This is another example of how statism is essentially capricious and whimsical (by which I mean “driven by whims”). No matter how much the statist claims he is motivated by rational policy considerations or by science, statist measures always end up being about someone using government to force his own arbitrary views on the entire population regardless because he, and enough others, “feel” strongly enough about them.

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  26. You would have to micromanage so many targets for so many different products.” And when have government bureaucrats ever tried to micromanage business
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  27. I am so very glad to see this level-headed article! I suffer from Addison’s Disease, and must consume large amounts of sodium per day. This govt. agenda to make our food supply low sodium, unnerves me.
    I have a rare illness, but salt is an important part of anyone’s diet. Athletes require more sodium, esp. in hot weather, for that matter we all need more in the summer. Some elderly folk like my father, require a higher level. How dare they take away our choices?? I just saw that Campbell’s has reduced the sodium in their soups, across the board. It’s getting hard to find cold cuts, even ham, that are salty enough. An experiment is exactly what this is, and they are assuming that we all have the same needs, as far as sodium goes. Give us choice of regular or low-sodium, but don’t alter our entire food supply!! Thank you for writing this article!

  28. You’ll need your tin foil to keep your prozac in

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